Friday, August 8, 2008

Bringing Mom to the 21st Century

I recently returned from a trip from visiting my in-laws.

When ever I go to visit the family, I am the resident computer geek. Something on the computer needs to be fixed, updated or configured - "Phillip will fix it." is the normal statement. Any geek worth his salt generally likes to be that guy.

This trip was no different in the demand, but it was very cool for what my mother-in-law wanted. Mom upgraded from a desktop computer to a laptop computer, mostly on her own, but without any help from me since the last time I visited. Way to go Mom.

I brought my Garmin (my hand-held GPS unit) with me, since I can get lost in a brown paper bag. My mother-in-law saw it and saw how easy it was to use that she decided that she thought she wanted one. We went to one of the big stores there and we meandered to the electronics and television department. Mom said that she was interested at getting a flat-screen television; one of the cool factors of shopping for televisions is that most stores have multiple televisions displaying the same show or recorded program so you can see the difference in sets.

Mom found a 32" flat-screen television set that she liked and we asked the associate if there were any in stock; unfortunately, there were none, but we were told to check back on Saturday, as they might get a shipment. We call back on Saturday -no shipment. Mom is resourceful; she has another place she can go to find a good flat-screen. We go to this other place and Mom finds a nice 37" HDTV Toshiba flat-screen that she decides she wants. Mom is still pretty simple, she does not need the very latest and greatest, but she wants something big enough to watch her sports on, especially her beloved NY Yankees. While we are there, she decides that she wants to see if they have a Garmin Nuvi 260W like I have. To her happy surprise they do, so she decides that she is going to get one. So we head home with not only a larger television than she originally thought she was going to get, but also a Garmin. I quickly programmed the Garmin with her home address and set it to go home and Mom used it to get home - if you are looking to get a GPS, I highly recommend Garmin - my friend Ron got me hooked on it. She was a happy camper.

So we get home and my first task is to setup the new television after taking down the old one. For physical tasks, this is pretty easy. Her old 31" CRT is tremendously heavier and bulkier than the new flat-screen television, but still easy enough to move. So the first challenge comes about for connecting the satellite to the new flat-screen and making it work - this should be a no brainer - boy was I WRONG.

Mom has the second connection to the satellite and it operates on channel 73, not the standard 3 or 4 that old cable would use - this still should not be a big deal. I make the physical connection and turn the television to channel 73 - after allowing the set to automatically search for channels. A great big nothing - only gray and white snow on the set. Mom says that she knows the number for the satellite company and calls it. She talks to the guy for about 2 minutes and decides that if she wants it done with the smallest headache that I should talk to the guy, so I do. The guy is pleasant and appears to know what he is doing. He has me go to where the primary satellite hook-up is located and press the menu key and 6-1-5, select the secondary connection, change the channel to 60 and save. He then tells me to go to the secondary set (the new flat-screen set) and change the channel to 60. Voila. Like a champ, it is working.

The problem with a satellite connection is you need to have a receiver for every television in your house, or all the televisions have to display the same show. The reason I mention this is because Mom has a little 19" CRT set in her bedroom that she uses as white-noise to go to sleep. Mom goes into her bedroom to do something and turns on her "little" television - nothing but white-snow. She calls to me and asks what did I do, because she can't watch television in her room now. I do the typical geek thing, scratch my head and say, "hmmm." The first idea that crosses my mind is to turn off the big-screen and perform the same steps I did to get the other television working. [Buzzer sound] Thanks for playing, but you lose is all I get. Ok, I scratch my head a little more and think that the televisions are two different types. So I wonder if I change the channel back to 73 using the main system, if the CRT will work. What do you know - the small CRT works and as expected, the flat-screen does not. I tell Mom I know what the problem is and she has two options - either buy a smaller flat-screen to watch in her room, or go without. Mom has to think about this as she says she only watches about 15 to 30 minutes of shows in her bedroom in order to fall asleep. For the present time - we do nothing for the bedroom.

Earlier, I mentioned that Mom upgraded her computer system to a laptop system. She has an additional keyboard and mouse for the laptop so her great-grandson does not destroy the laptop by banging too hard on the keyboard or touch pad. Another cool -factor about the LCD flat-screen is that it has a VGA connection so it can be used as an additional monitor. The next time we went back to Mom's regular store, I looked around for a male-to-male VGA cable, but there were none to be found. Well, any self-respecting geek knows where he has to go - even though he will seldom admit it - when he needs an electronic part and the regular store does not have one - RadioShack®. So I ask Mom to bring me there and I pick up the part I need. We get back home - using the Garmin of course - and I connect the laptop to the big screen and push a couple of buttons and Mom can now see the laptop screen on her big screen television. She is as giddy as a school girl with her first crush.

One small problem with my setup. Mom is a neat freak and does not like having a mess anywhere. The geek in me has to figure something out so she will use this cool stuff she has.

The next day we are expecting the great-grandson, Anthony, to come over for a visit. Yvonne and I saw some cool 3D chalk one time back home, but have not been able to find it since. Yvonne's twin sister Darlene says that she saw it at Toys R Us. So we all decide that we are going to meet for lunch, but Mom, Yvonne and I will stop off to get the 3D chalk first. When we get to the store, we see a sign on the window that they have WII in stock. Yvonne and I have been trying to buy a WII for months, without any luck because they have been out of stock. I digress; Yvonne and Mom start looking for the 3D chalk and I set out on my own mission to see if they really have WII in stock. Yvonne and Mom have good luck and find the 3D chalk. I in the meantime am still looking for the electronic games section, which I finally find. I ask the associate if they truly do have any WII in stock and she tells me they just got some and they still have some. By this time, Mom and Yvonne found me and Mom says that she wants a WII too. I shake my head in bewilderment wondering not only why does a 72-year-old woman want a WII, but how does she even know what one is. Mom knows exactly what one is and thinks it will be something good for Anthony to use when he comes over - as well as looking really good on her new 37" HDTV. Color me surprised, but she ended up getting one.

While we are in the store, we find out that Darlene is running late, so we can take our time and meet her there in a bit. We have lunch and we head back to Mom's place where my next task is hooking up the WII to her big screen television. Fortunately, there is nothing overly complicated about setting up the WII and we are playing games before long.

Mom decides that she would like to have a television in her bedroom, so we head out to her regular store and start looking at smaller sets. She finds this nice 20" LCD HDTV that is in her price range and they have it in stock. She gets the television and homeward we go for me to setup the new television. The first thing I need to do is disconnect the old CRT television. The challenge in doing this is that the plug for the television is behind her heavy dresser. The dresser is not all that heavy, but it is bulky and challenging to move, as we had to take most items off and make sure the mirror was connected securely,which it was. After getting the old television removed and connecting the new HDTV in Mom's bedroom, I changed the channel to 60 and Mom was again able to watch television in her room in high definition.

While I am unplugging the television, I find that her printer is also connected to the outlet behind the dresser and her USB cable for connecting the printer to the laptop is not nearly long enough to reach the laptop where she currently has her laptop setup so it can connect to the big screen. My mind starts to churn again for a possible solution.

Later in the week, we go to the local mall and start bee-bopping through the mall. Mom decides that she wants to be connected to the internet again so she can make good use of her laptop computer. We cruise the mall and find Mom's phone carrier and ask about getting her connected. For $19.99 a month, Mom can have wireless access to the internet from the convenience of her home. She is sold. The only issue is that hardware is not going to arrive until after Yvonne and I are home. The salesman and I both assure Mom that it is not very difficult to hook up. Again Mom is happy that she has more technology at home.

While we are walking through the mall, I see a computer store that I can peruse to get some ideas to make Mom's life easier with her new technological advances. Since Mom likes to sit in her recliner across the room from her television and do pretty much everything - watch television, make phone calls and take a nap, to name a few of her favorite activities - I figured that her recliner would be a pretty good place for Mom to use her computer as well. I decide that Mom needs a wireless keyboard and mouse so she can use them from the comfort of her recliner and that we can get a longer USB cable to connect to her printer so she can print stuff and not have to worry about trying to move her printer to where her laptop is or vice-versa. She was again giddy with this idea. One final stop at her regular store to get her a laptop desk to put her keyboard and mouse on to use from the comfort of her recliner and life is grand.

Before I left I had to give Mom a tutorial on how to access all of her old and new toys so she could use them. After a couple of times through the list of what to do to access her VCR, DVD, WII, and computer, she was a natural.

On a side note, Mom and I need to have the rubber match game for bowling, as we are tied at 2 games a piece in the best of 5. Mom beat me one game 221 to 183. I need to be on my A-game to beat her.

More on my adventures with my WII at a later time.

Make someones day and perform a random act of kindness. It could be as simple, or complicated, as bringing them up to the 21st century.

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